The more we learn of CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the more terrifying it is. Back in 2006, when the first studies were being done on NFL players, three-of-three autopsies were found to exhibit the tau protein characteristic of this type of degenerative disease.
We’re still learning more, but what we find is not promising for the future of the sport. In a recent study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA,) principal investigators found some startling facts:
* 110 of 111 NFL players had CTE
* 48 of 53 college players exhibited the tau protein
* 9 of 14 semiprofessional players
* 3 of 14 high school
* 8 of 9 CFL players
(There’s more at Mike Baker’s feed above; he’s a solid investigative reporter for the Seattle Intelligencer.)
The general jibe from the abstract then is that the longer one plays, and at increasingly higher levels of play, the more likely it is that suffering repeated subconcussive traumas will result in CTE. At this point, developing CTE seems an inevitability for those that excel in the sport as collegiate and professional athletes.
We don’t have evidence as to what causes the degrees of symptoms, or why one person clincally presents with signs that another player does not. But we do know it is not the killshot or the concussions that cause the damage, it is the very act of playing football which represents the danger -- there is simply no way to prevent heads colliding, at any level, for any player. And the longer you do so, the more likely the risk of permanent damage.
I have no answers for this. And I don’t know where the sport goes or if it will even be viable in its present form in the coming years. I do know two things: 1. Litigation and CTE research are intrinsically intertwined -- we’ve not seen the end of the lawsuits for CTE, only the beginning. And litigation is an existential threat to the sport, and 2. that as much as I love the sport, I would not allow my child to play it in 2017.